Spring has Sprung!
Each walk that Wren and I take during this time of year is an exploration of what birds have arrived since the last time we were out. As such the species mix often changes from day to day or even between morning and evening. That’s true of whether we’re exploring the trails around Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, or whether we’re in the surrounding valleys. After all, a friend of mine reported 17 species of warbler the other day near Watertown, and another friend of mine has been seeing new birds for the season each day along Lake Champlain. In terms of arriving birds, we usually lag a bit behind the surrounding valleys, but our bird composition has been changing constantly.
A Quick Change in the Weather
Given the regular influx of new birds, it is hard to remember that Wren and I last cross country skied on May 1st – a late date record for us. In fact, not two weeks ago I was watching Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers along Lake Colby feed feet away from us in the fast-falling snow! It was incredible. But the weather has shifted and it appears that spring is here to stay this time around.
Last weekend, Wren and started our day with a walk as we always do – again along Lake Colby – and the Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers were again feeding close to us along the trail, but this time without the backdrop of snow! All the same, that day began cool and overcast as a front had passed through the region. But that didn’t stop a list of birds from showing up overnight. Many of these were the usual arrivals for this time of year – species like White-crowned Sparrows have been singing all week in my yard and neighborhood, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been everywhere. But our walk that day beneath the breezy clouds also included an Eastern Kingbird and a Baltimore Oriole, two species which are not easy to find in the middle of the Adirondacks and are generally much more common in the lowlands surrounding the park. Clearly birds were on the move.
Shorebirds, a Northern Saw-whet Owl, and lots of Arriving Warblers!
That walk also found my first Spotted Sandpiper of the year, and I’ve seen a Spottie (that’s what you call them when you’re in the know), multiple times this week since. After we had finished at Colby, we spun past the High School Pond in Saranac Lake – a good place to check out at this time of year. I had seen my first Chimney Swifts of the season there a few days earlier while attending a track meet, and as I drove by, I added a Solitary Sandpiper – again the first of the year for me. That bird was still there the following day, as was a Greater Yellowlegs at Lake Colby. And my walks at Colby regularly find a pair of Common Loons as well as Bald Eagles and Ospreys. On top of that, last weekend I ended my day with a tooting Northern Saw-whet Owl in my yard!
But it is still the woodland birds and songbirds which draw so much of our attention at this time of year. Many of them – like Song and Swamp Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Northern Flickers have been back for weeks, while others are still just showing up or they are passing through on their way north.
For instance, Blue-headed Vireos have been singing each day while we are out, and there have been increasing numbers of warblers. The other evening I found 9 species of warblers including Nashville, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, American Redstart, Palm, and Yellow. They were mixed with good numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and all were feeding voraciously on a recently hatched crop of insects along the alder thickets. Further out the trail we passed a deafening chorus of spring peepers, as American toads warmed up their spring-time trills and an American Bittern pumped from a small marsh.
I found a similar mix of warblers yesterday with even more Yellow-rumps feeding frantically, and today I added a Chestnut-sided Warbler to the list for the year. At the same time, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been singing this week, and the leafless branches have made for perfect viewing of everything. That’s good news for anyone interested in photography.
Even with all that what’s truly exciting is that so many more birds are still to come. Even though numbers are building daily, we are still on the leading edge of the wave of birds which will be arriving here in the Adirondacks and North Country. It is a list full of flycatchers, warblers, tanagers, buntings, sparrows, and everything else, and it makes May one of the best months to bird the region. After all, the anticipation grows to see what each day will bring, and Wren and I are out as often as we can to discover it.